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Ads add to boys' body-image pressure

News, 10 August 2016

LONDON: More than half of UK male teenagers feel pressured to look good by the images they see in advertising – as well as by celebrities, social media and friends – and brands can play a role in contributing to their health and wellbeing, a new study suggests.

Credos, the advertising industry think tank, surveyed 1,005 boys from primary and secondary schools around the country to explore their attitudes towards advertising and body image; focus groups with boys aged 8 to 18 and with teachers, youth leaders and parents added to understanding the roots, effects and solutions to boys' body confidence.

The subsequent report, Picture of Health?, revealed that 53% of boys felt advertising was a major source of pressure to look good; only social media (57%) and friends (68%) exerted more influence, while celebrities (49%) were slightly less persuasive.

And while most (80%) were aware of image-manipulation in the media, most appeared to associate this with the female form, as the study reported that they were surprised at the extent to which male images are altered.

Two thirds (67%) said it was not acceptable for brands to use digital techniques to change the body image of a model in their advertising.

But some secondary school-age boys (aged 11 to 18) suggested the way media portray men in their images could be healthy (33%) or even aspirational (22%).

Around one in four (42%) boys who thought the male images they saw were realistic also believed there is a "perfect body" to strive for, compared with just 16% of those who think male images are unrealistic.

"This new research shows boys are increasingly worried about their appearance," said Karen Fraser, Credos director.

"We have to recognise that advertising and the wider media play some part in shaping how young people feel about themselves – both positively and negatively."

More generally, the study found that boys hold advertising in high regard, with 73% of secondary school boys agreeing that ads are important in letting them know about products.

And 69% of 16-18 year olds said they had tried new products after seeing an advertisement.

Data sourced from Credos; additional content by Warc staff